Thursday, April 30, 2015


Explored Jiangwan 江湾, the neighborhood where I live, with my friend X this evening. We discovered a lively street, and a romantic pavilion.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Springtime Beijing

I'm behind on not one but two trips to Beijing, so here, consolidated, are some images from my visit with Australian family 8-11 and on my own to the Renmin conference 20-24/4. In interests of time few words, but I invite you to imagine fitting anecdotes for the pictures that seem to demand them.

故宫 Forbidden City

Floral fireworks and religious tchotchkes for sale at Jingshan Park. 

Selfie-stick put to imperial use at 天坛 Temple of Heaven. 

Traffic bottleneck (we got caught there) between Houhai Lakes.

Up the cherry blossomed hill to the Great Wall at 慕田峪 Mutianyu!

Exhibit and venue of the Renmin symposium East-West Art

Peonies, blooming trees and a kind of tree seed blowing all over town

Detail of a neon landscape-generator at National Art Museum

798 Art District's amazing range of work (the last from DPRK)

Metro ad for presumablky foreigner-approved face masks

Yesterday's grand building and today's

Prostration before 天宁寺 Tianning temple's pagoda

Stuff for sale, and a caged songbird's daily outing

牛街清真寺 Ox Street Mosque


法源寺 Fayuan temple and neighborhood

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fancy memory

Had an enjoyable evening with Starry Skies Academic Salon 星空讲坛, an organization of the Fudan Student Union. (The letter of thanks I received at the end, along with a commemorative china flashdrive - see below - showed they knew in advance that my "extensive knowledge, humorous words and charming personality" would ensure we'd "spen[d] a sweet and unforgettable night together.") Their usually rather formal structure was loosened by midterm student and faculty busyness - it was just me and a baker's dozen students who responded to a call to explain in a few sentences why they'd be interested in participating in a discussion about the Book of Job in English.

I wasn't sure where our discussion would go, but I told them I was delighted to have a chance to talk with - and learn from - a new group of people engaging the Book of Job (just like old times!), and dispensed with the erudite lecture they're requested for our second hour. More than half the group (everyone was invited to speak at one point or other) identified themselves as Christians or Christian-leaning, a surprise even to them. It wound up being more personal than any "salon" they've yet had, an achievement. The organizer wants my advice on how to set up such an environment in future but a big part of it, beyond my charming personality, is that I know the host V quite well - girlfriend of my undergraduate friend J, and our ease with each other gave others permission to be casual.

Another student was charged with raising some opening questions, and they were terrific:
1) Are Job's friends' views to be condemned, and, if so, most of Jewish and Christian tradition with them?
2) What can we make of the replacement of Job's children?
3) How has Job been engaged in theodicy reflection, specially in post-Holocaust Jewish thought and Christian liberation theology?
4) What sense could the Book of Job make to the majority of Chinese people who, far from subscribing to belief in a good and powerful creator, are closer to Machiavelli's faith in Fortuna, goddess of fate?

We didn't get to all of them, but they succeeded perfectly in eliciting energetic discussion. The first led to a discussion of Job's friends as friends, and the book's messages as including admonitions about the importance, and fragility, of friendship in times of hardship. The second produced some chilling language from some of the Christians - all of us are sinners and deserve death anyway, luckily God vented his rightful wrath on his son instead of us - but even the non-Christians galled by the killing of Job's children were mollified by another Christian's claim that his experience of the death of his girlfriend last year was made more bearable by the thought that it was a test that makes our lives better, that maybe the history of human suffering and injustice is an "enormous examination."

The third question was too technical so we discussed other religious traditions - mainly Buddhism, though I made sure people understood that Job was not obviously and only a Christian book by discussing some Jewish interpretations. Only one person present spoke of Buddhism as a live option (and he's a "seeker" whose preferred Buddhism is the other-power of Emituofo/Amida). I turned discussion from theoretical questions to practical questions of compassion - can one feel compassion for someone one believes is being justly punished? - and the value most traditions have seen in suffering as a teacher, something hard to appreciate in modern societies which see suffering as meaningless.

The last question went unaddressed as nobody felt called or comfortable speaking as a non-Christian Chinese, except for valiant V, who said she would prefer a life of shallow happiness, but if tested by suffering would make use of what she could from every tradition she encountered, the eloquence of Job and his friends a likely resource. I wrapped things up by saying that I hoped the Book of Job had a future in China, used in new ways and frameworks which would illuminate new aspects of the text ... so I could study it!

A few of the students will go through my book over the next weeks - I'm invited along, too. Should make for more "fancy memories!"

(Okay, so the fancy memories students take away from the evening might not be any of what I've described above. It's possible they'll remember two extravagant digressions. In the first, as I was trying to explain why I'm interested in everyone's understandings and uses of the Book of Job, not just the specialists', I told them about the partner of a friend of mine, a pilot, who had a whole wall of erudite books about Job, whose study was, he told me, his great passion. It turned out he was not all he seemed to be - he was in fact married to someone else the whole time he was with my friend, and was never a pilot. Studying Job evidently is no guarantee of moral probity or improvement!

(The second digression came to the discussion of compassion, when I noted that the problem of suffering is far greater than that of just human suffering. Most Buddhists, who are supposed to be aware of the suffering of all sentient beings, are non-vegetarians. I ranted about the cruelty of the way Shanghai's crabs are stacked in great pyramids in markets, trussed up for slower asphixation so people can steam them while they're still alive. Perhaps these Buddhists will be reborn as crabs, I said, and then, inspired or possessed, maybe all of us in this room will be reborn as crabs, reunited in one of those piles! What was I thinking?!)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Wax and wane

Sorry if I seem to have lost the thread of this blog! I'll resume weaving soon, and will be sure to include not just images from the travels with my sister and her boys to Beijing and Yangshou but also some from my parents' visit here to Shanghai - where (in 七宝 Qibao water town) we found this waxen weaver today.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Several places I know (and have even shared photos of in this blog) have suffered in the Nepali earthquake: Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur. It's harder to get a sense of the scale of destruction beyond these famous places (UNESCO World Heritage sites all) in the Kathmandu Valley, and in the villages off the radar, but it's doubtless terrible... Prayers.

Friday, April 24, 2015


Well, the conference turned out to be more and less than I hoped, as is often the case. Accident and serendipity offer more new insights and angles than planned collaborations, especially perhaps in comparative contexts. (Part of the pleasure of this particular gathering was organizer David Jasper's clarity about just this: teaching short courses here over several years has persuaded him that not just breakthroughs but simple understanding will more likely come from shared exploration of an artwork than ambitious efforts to enumerate and engage the systems and categories of different cultures.) I had a great time with the Scottish brigade (above) and their busy Chinese interlocutors (not above). The only bad thing that happened was that, as we foreigners were being given a whirlwind tour of the 798 Art District, I dropped my beloved camera! That thing at right is the last picture I took; the lens was jammed, probably beyond repairing, before I could snap the name of the ENJOY ART MUSEUM where we'd just seen a particularly lugubrious set of paintings of post-industrial wastelands... Oh well, happily a friend has lent me a camera for the rest of my time here, and, judging from a first foray near gaudy 静安寺 Jing'an Temple in Shanghai (below), it'll do nicely!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Later Spring

In Beijing, poppies! And back where I live in Shanghai, azaleas!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Cutest ever images of the eponymous Core Values of Socialism, together with famous sights of Beijing! Meanwhile, since vandalism is something I've never seen in China, these targeted-seeming tears to a poster (on Dongsi 东四 near the National Art Museum of China) must be accidental:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Between worlds

Renmin University's symposium 东西方艺术当代发展 East-West Art: Contemporary Development is turning out quite exciting in all the ways I hoped. European (mostly Scottish) and Chinese artists and scholar are reflecting on issues of meaning, suffering, universality - as well as what contemporary (sic) art (sic) might mean in China. It's interesting to me because it's all framed by the unofficial question of what one organizer calls "art as religion" - the way in which art "suspends" the viewer/ reader "between worlds." We're suspended between lots of worlds here, fun fun! And as the pics attest, Beijing's doing its part: late Spring floral glory ... under blue skies!